President Donald Trump on Wednesday named his special envoy for hostage negotiations Robert C. O’Brien as his new national security adviser.
O’Brien replaces the ousted hawk John Bolton.
He does not face Senate confirmation and will be Trump’s fourth national security adviser in three years.
Strikingly, just days ago in Israel, O’Brien contemplated war with Iran over Americans imprisoned in that country.
His promotion comes in the very week US-Iranian tensions have ratcheted to their highest point during Trump’s tenure.
The strikes appear to have been retaliation for the thousands of Yemeni civilian casualties inflicted in the past few years by a Saudi military outfitted with American weaponry.
Meet the new hawk, much like the old
O’Brien talked about US “hostages” held in Tehran’s Evin prison.
“Could we secure, could we send in a couple of ranger battalions and secure the neighborhood and send in one of our sabre teams and breach the prison and get our folks out? We could do that,” he stated.
O’Brien acknowledged that “there would be a tremendous cost that goes along with it, establishing an air corridor, basically going to war with Iran.”
“So, that would fall under everything we can, and we’re not doing that at this point,” he added. “Although that is something we potentially could do.”
So, just days before assuming his new White House post, O’Brien postulated that the US could go to war with Iran to secure the release of a small number of people.
Amnesty International has reported that conditions in Evin prison are “inhumane and unsanitary” and that abuses including torture take place.
Additionally, it has condemned breaches of international law and “callous and dehumanizing” practices at a federal super-maximum security prison in the United States. The use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country is described by Amnesty as a “shocking abuse.”
The US has consistently blocked United Nations human rights investigators from gaining access to its prisons.
It is also difficult to imagine what the American response would be to a foreign power even contemplating a military invasion to free prisoners held in dire conditions by the United States.
The plight of Americans held in Iran is nevertheless serious.
But talking about war with Iran is incredibly dangerous. In addition to the potential devastation and loss of life, it would be illegal and would throw the region into deeper turmoil – perhaps surpassing the chaos unleashed in the aftermath of the Bush-Cheney war on Iraq.
O’Brien’s statement in Israel goes far beyond a 5 September tweet in which he noted that the US is “closely monitoring the conditions for Americans wrongfully detained by Iran in Evin prison.”
He added that prison officials “are responsible for the detainees’ safety” and that “the world is watching.”
The world is indeed watching how they are treated. But an election-eve operation would likely be fatal to the prisoners, not to mention horrific for Iran and the wider region.
Even if the chances of such an operation are remote, it is alarming enough that O’Brien raised the possibility in public and that he will now have the ear of the president at the highest level.
And if O’Brien did advise such an operation, Trump might look back at President Jimmy Carter’s disastrous 1980 military operation in Iran which resulted in eight US military personnel killed and no hostages rescued.
Democrats embrace war hawks and lose
Indeed Trump, unlike both Bush administrations, with their Democratic enablers, has thus far rejected new wars in the Middle East.
He has lambasted the financial waste of US military interventions in the region particularly in Iraq.
Democrats, including in 1991 Senators Al Gore and Joe Lieberman who lost the 2000 presidential election as well as Senators John Kerry and John Edwards in 2002 who lost the 2004 election, have yet to fully recognize the electoral consequences of their votes authorizing wars.
Whether Trump continues to prefer bellicose rhetoric rather than launching new wars in the run-up to the 2020 election remains to be seen.
But so far his position offers a strong counterpoint to the Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, who voted in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
Trump is a racist through and through, but Democrats will risk a great deal if they again choose to run against Trump with an Iraq hawk who, like Senator Hillary Clinton, voted for the killing of Muslims and brown people over alternative policies.
Three Democratic presidential candidates have voted for war with Iraq since 1990 and all – Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton – have lost. Biden may well make a fourth.
Another expansionist for Trump
O’Brien is also fully supportive of Trump’s embrace of Israeli expansionism.
In 2017, O’Brien penned a criticism of President Barack Obama’s symbolic move against Israeli settlement expansionism in his final days in office.
Having failed for eight years to rein in Israel’s colonization in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, Obama decided not to veto UN Security Council resolution 2334 – abstaining instead – in December 2016.
That resolution reaffirms the illegality of Israeli settlements.
O’Brien expressed dismay that “Resolution 2344 is an established UN precedent that purports to turn Israel and hundreds of thousands of its citizens into ‘flagrant’ violators of international law.”
That endorsement of Israel’s settlements – which are a war crime – likely helped put him in line for the foreign policy posts he’s secured in the Trump administration.
Many people have expressed relief that the dangerous and unhinged Bolton is gone.
But O’Brien, if judged to be more “moderate” than his predecessor, may prove more capable of convincing media, Democratic politicians and perhaps Trump himself of the necessity of war with Iran.
For all his many negatives, Trump has so far proved more politically astute than many Democrats by recognizing the social and economic costs at home of endless wars abroad.
- Robert C. O'Brien
- Donald Trump
- John Bolton
- Mike Pompeo
- Iran hostage crisis
- Saudi Arabia
- Javad Zarif
- Ayelet Shaked
- International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
- Amnesty International
- Guantanamo Bay
- George W. Bush
- Dick Cheney
- Iraq War
- Evin prison
- Jimmy Carter
- international law
- Israeli settlements
- UN Security Council Resolution 2334
- Al Gore
- Joe Lieberman
- John Kerry
- Hillary Clinton
- Joe Biden
- Barack Obama
- John Edwards